The ‘Battle of the Bulge’ or the ‘Ardennes Offensive’ was the single biggest and bloodiest battle American soldiers have ever fought. Before dawn on Dec. 16, a German artillery bombardment preceded a powerful attack along a 40-mile front that overran the U.S. 106th and 28th Infantry Divisions. More than 8,000 Americans were captured as German formations rampaged west, scattering horrified rear-area troops of the U.S. 1st Army. Initial reports indicated a major disaster -- a huge hole blown in the Allied lines and fresh German panzer (armored) forces pouring through it.

German troops advancing past abandoned American equipment [Via]

#1. The Germans threw 250,000 soldiers into the initial assault, 14 German infantry divisions guarded by five panzer divisions-against a mere 80,000 American troops assigned to what was supposed to be a quiet sector in the Ardennes region of Belgium. It scattered American frontline units and caused many anxious hours in the Allied high command.

American soldiers of the 3rd Battalion 119th Infantry Regiment are taken prisoner by members of Kampfgruppe Peiper in Stoumont, Belgium on 19 December 1944 [Via]

#2. The offensive caught the Allied high command completely off-guard. Ironically, intelligence reports warned that the Germans were indeed marshalling for a strike through Belgium, yet the very notion was almost unthinkable to U.S. generals. Allied leaders, including General Omar Bradley and General Dwight D. Eisenhower, were surprised by the force of the German attack.

#3. The U.S. units deployed in the Ardennes were a mixture of inexperienced troops (such as the raw U.S. 99th and 106th "Golden Lions" Divisions), and battle-hardened troops sent to that sector to recuperate (the 28th Infantry Division). 

#4. The United States suffered its second-largest surrender of troops of the war: More than 7,500 members of the 106th Infantry Division capitulated at one time at Schnee Eifel. The US 106th Infantry division was encircled in the opening hours of the attack, leaving two out of three soldiers killed or captured. GIs up and down the line were in full retreat, with the exception of isolated, scattered groups of tenacious soldiers, fighting to delay the German onslaught. The inexperienced U.S. 106th Division was nearly annihilated, but even in defeat helped buy time for Brigadier General Bruce C. Clarke’s brilliant defense of St.-Vith. Thousands of American troops surrendered, to be marched off to prison camps. Others fled for their lives, while still others, desperate and outgunned, made last stands against Nazi tanks.

U.S. POWs on 22 December 1944 [Via]

#5. One particularly effective German trick, "Operation Greif", was the use of English-speaking German commandos led by Otto Skorzeny who infiltrated American lines and, using captured U.S. uniforms, trucks, and jeeps, impersonated U.S. military and sabotaged communications.

6#. Nazi atrocities abounded, including the murder of 84 American soldiers by SS soldiers in the Ardennes town of Malmedy.

American soldiers taking a break in Malmedy [Via]

Scene of the Malmedy massacre [Via]

#7. American soldiers allegedly shot approximately sixty German prisoners of war near the Belgian village of Chenogne (8 km from Bastogne).

#8. Caught off-guard, American units fought desperate battles to stem the German advance at St.-Vith, Elsenborn Ridge, Houffalize and later, Bastogne, which was defended by the 101st Airborne Division.

#9. During the course of their engagements in St.-Vith some units of the 82nd Airborne suffered over 80% casualties—the 509th Battalion reportedly took over 90% casualties—with most losses coming during the Allied counteroffensive that began in January.

Brigadier-Gen. Anthony McAuliffe: the commander of the 101st Airborne inside Bastogne [Via]

#10. At the critical road junctions of St. Vith and Bastogne, American tankers and paratroopers fought off repeated attacks, and when the acting commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Bastogne, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, was summoned by his German adversary to surrender or heavy artillery will begin firing on the town, he simply responded, "Nuts!".

Infantrymen fire at German troops in the advance to relieve the surrounded paratroopers in Bastogne [Via]

#11. Despite taking dreadful losses, US forces managed to delay the enemy sufficiently to permit reinforcements to be moved into position to halt the German drive. In large part, it was the tenacious defense put up by American soldiers, fighting in small groups in sub-zero cold and snow that stopped the German advance.

Two U.S. soldiers, dug into the snow and dirt east of Bastogne, Belgium, man .30-caliber light machine guns as they keep an eye out for German troops [Via]

#12. A crucial German shortage of fuel and the gallantry of American troops fighting in the frozen forests of the Ardennes proved fatal to Hitler’s ambition to snatch, if not victory, at least a draw with the Allies in the west.

#13. On December 23, American forces began their first counterattack on the southern flank of the "Bulge."  Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s remarkable feat and successful maneuvering of turning the Third Army ninety degrees from Lorraine proved vital to relieve the besieged town of Bastogne which was the key to thwarting the German counteroffensive despite heavy casualties.

Infantrymen of the 82nd Airborne Division, 504th Regiment, advancing on Herresbach, Belgium [Via]

#14. The temperature during January 1945 was extremely low. Weapons had to be maintained and truck engines run every half-hour to prevent their oil from congealing. The soldiers often fought in zero-temperature conditions and driving snow that prevented them from seeing more than 10 or 20 yards in front of them. With equipment and uniforms that were designed for warmer times, frostbite became a terrible reality. Because soldiers were often cut off from their divisions in foxholes, the wounded, in some cases, literally froze to death.

During the Battle of the Bulge (Dec 1944), allied soldiers decorated their helmets with lace curtains, after realizing it provided excellent camouflage in the snow [Via]

#15. By January 28, 1945, the Americans had pushed the Germans back to their initial positions of December 16, 1944.

#16. The Battle of the Bulge was the costliest military action ever fought by the U.S. Army in terms of participation and losses. They were bore the brunt of the attack and incurred their highest casualties for any operation during the war. For the Americans, 610,000 men were involved in the battle, of whom 89,000 were casualties, including up to 19,000 killed. It was the largest battle the US Army had ever fought in history . 

#17. The Allies called it the Ardennes Counteroffensive. The phrase "Battle of the Bulge" was coined by contemporary press to describe the way the Allied front line bulged inward on wartime news maps and became the most widely used name for the battle.

US Army soldiers of the 3rd Armored Division run down the street while the Germans shell the town during the Battle of the Bulge, January 15, 1945 [Via]

#18. Historian John S.D. Eisenhower wrote, "... the action of the 2nd and 99th Divisions on the northern shoulder could be considered the most decisive of the Ardennes campaign." The 99th Infantry Division as a whole, outnumbered five to one, inflicted casualties in the ratio of eighteen to one. The division lost about 219 Facts about American Forces in the 'Battle of the Bulge'0% of its effective strength, including 465 killed and 2,524 evacuated due to wounds, injuries, fatigue, or trench foot. German losses were much higher.

#19. Winston Churchill, addressing the House of Commons following the Battle of the Bulge said, "This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory."

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